Purple Day began just a few years ago in 2008, and promptly launched into an international event to acknowledge epilepsy sufferers the world over, educate the public and to raise crucial funds in order to improve the lives of those who live with the often debilitating condition. This year’s event will be held on March 26th, and the coordinators once again encourage us to wear an item of purple clothing and to participate in one of its many fundraising options.
Since awareness and education are key goals of Purple Day’s organisers, let’s stop for a moment and look at some of the facts around epilepsy in Australia.
What is Epilepsy?
In Australia alone, around 400,000 of us have been diagnosed with a form of epilepsy. This simply means that they have shown a tendency towards recurring seizures. A single seizure is not necessarily epilepsy, and that makes epilepsy more of a chronic (long-term) condition rather than an acute (short-lived) one.
Epilepsy is a disorder of brain function that presents as a seizure. A seizure can be convulsive (where the muscles tense up and shake) or non-convulsive (where the person enters an altered state but does not convulse). There are other kinds of seizures that are not epileptic, such as those experienced by a diabetic or someone with vascular problems, but the difference is that brain function is not the cause in those instances.
The brain communicates internally and externally using electrical impulses that travels through nerve cells, called neurons. The vehicles that carry these impulses are called neurotransmitters, and they are like tiny cars driving down our neural pathways. A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled burst of electrical activity that has misfired – think of the vehicle as a horde of careening race cars. They will crash through our nerve pathways and affect thoughts, feelings, and movements. Some will cause a loss of consciousness. Some will cause confusion. Many are painful.
Because seizures can occur anywhere between every few years to several times a day, every epilepsy sufferer will have a unique experience, and an individual story to tell.
Who is at risk of epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a fairly common disorder in Australia and it can present at any age and in any gender or ethnic group. Epilepsy Australia estimates that around 3% of the population will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives. Although once thought of as a condition of the young, it is now acknowledged that people over the age of 55 are the most vulnerable group. The identified reason behind this is that this is the group most at risk of a number of triggering events – cerebrovascular accidents (stroke), respiratory conditions that lead to oxygen deprivation and cardiac events like heart attack that can leave the brain damaged.
Other causes of epilepsy
In about half of all cases, the cause of epilepsy will remain unknown, although recent research has suggested genetic causes are at play. In the other half, specialists can point to structural abnormalities in the brain, infections such as meningitis or encephalitis, birth trauma (or other kinds of trauma) or one of the aforementioned conditions as the cause behind the onset. Tumours and Alzheimer’s disease can also cause epileptic seizures.
Several treatment options are available for epilepsy sufferers, with the severity of the condition the main consideration when discussing a care plan with a specialist. Up to 70% of cases will be controlled through medication alone, but for more serious cases, brain stimulation or surgery may be offered. Several new treatments have emerged as research has found them to be effective, and they include vagus nerve stimulation and ketogenic diets.
Wear purple and get involved
Apart from wearing purple on March 26th, show your support for the cause by making a donation, purchasing a fundraising item from the online store, or join an organised event. If you’re feeling particularly enthused, why not hold your own event? Schools, business and community groups can get on board by wearing purple for the day in exchange for a gold coin donation. It’s as easy as that.
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